Spotlight: Sam Hickey, Asuwere co-founder
Asuwere is a unique business concept based in Auckland that is changing the way men shop for their wardrobes. Founded by brothers Noah & Sam Hickey, we talked trends with Sam as he created content for the spring/summer season ahead.
Your subscription business model is entirely different from the mainstream clothing retail model, what were the key insights that lead you to establish Asuwere in its current form?
After working in the industry for 10 or so years in NZ and Europe, I saw an opportunity to focus on making what the customer wants, and how they want it, the core part of the business model. A customer-first approach is something my brother and Co-founder Noah is really passionate about.
Guys want good quality staples that they can trust they will look good day-to-day. Once they find what they like, they stay pretty true to that. We’re all on the hunt for that perfect tee or perfect chino, and finding them can be a real challenge. There are far too many options to choose from, store racks are often overstocked, you’re sold colours in the heat of the moment but regret buying the second you get home. It’s time-consuming and, for a lot of guys, it’s a very stressful experience. What we’ve come to the market saying is we know what you need, we know when you need it and we will deliver it to your door once a month for $99. Our in-store experience really tries to replicate this too, it’s a comfortable environment where you can come in for a coffee or beer, try on the up-coming pieces and know you’ve sorted your clothes shopping for the months to come.
Tell us about your background and what lead you to establish Asuwere
I’ve always had an interest in clothing, which came from my family. Dad used to make shirts, Mum made bikinis and having two older brothers inspired the way I dressed and this just continued as I got older. I grew up and lived in Auckland until I was 25, studied a certificate in business at AUT and after working in event management I finally landed at AUT again studying a Bachelor of Fashion Design. It was a great course which really honed in my love of clothing and brought a bit more of a technical thinking to my approach (how to pattern, sew and build a collection).
Admittedly, the main reason I was there was to design clothes I wanted to wear. Not too long after graduating I landed the job as menswear designer at Huffer (which was a huge moment) and over the next 3 ½ years working with such an iconic brand, I was able to refine my style and bring a bit of this to them also. I then moved to the UK to gain more experience at scale but also enjoy what Europe has to offer, music festivals, amazing countries, it was the best decision I’ve made and the learnings and lifestyle there really helped make the call to give it a go myself.
You’ve just launched a great campaign with Fix Up Look Sharp, tell us about that and how important is it for businesses to give back to the community?
Giving back is really important, something I think we’ve learnt from our mum who is so generous with her time. Our whole model is to try and help guys out and deliver them quality products that they can trust they’ll look good in, but that is still a luxury not everyone can afford. We aim to close the loop by taking our members clothes they no longer need and giving them to people who do. Fix Up Look Sharp has been helping guys out for years and when we came across them we were so inspired and knew Jane was the perfect person to partner with and donate clothes.
What are your biggest learnings from starting a business that you can pass on to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
It’s hard. And it’s easy to beat yourself up when you see other people or brands doing cool things but the reality is, it’s hard for everyone. Just have clarity around what you are trying to achieve, your ‘why’, and understand you can’t do it all at once and that’s fine. Having people you can trust around you who you know have your back certainly helps. I’m incredibly lucky with the team I have around me who it wouldn’t be possible without.
What are the greatest challenges with the clothing retail industry today?
It’s constantly changing, and there is obviously a big shift (for the right reasons) toward sustainability as clothing itself is such a big polluter. However, the change isn’t necessarily happening fast enough from the source level to allow everyone to be as sustainable as they would like and continue running a business. I know exactly the fabrics I want to be using for our staples but need to be making higher units to have access to them.
We try and do our part in other ways - focusing on daily staples rather than trend-based clothing, biodegradable packaging, donating our members’ unworn clothes.
Who or what are your biggest influences in style, life & business?
It’s the people closest around me, my brother and co-founder Noah has always been a big influence in my life and business from a young age, my parents, siblings, friends and most importantly my partner Talia who is my sounding voice whenever I need it. Stylewise I feel like I go with my own flow, might be inspired by music one day or purely by what I have on.
How often are you producing content and how do you decide on which pieces and which types of content to invest in as a young brand?
We are really trying to learn more about our customers so we can provide content of value to them. Our members are busy people who have careers, businesses and families and we bring them more time through convenience, so we need to really invest in content that helps them get on with their lives, keeps them informed with things they otherwise wouldn’t see. Following that we want to showcase interesting things our members are doing through People of Asuwere.
What are the next steps to grow Asuwere?
There are still so many guys out there who don’t know about us or what we do, so that’s pretty much the plan, continue building our membership base throughout NZ for now, refine and improve our product offering based on what our members truly need.
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